The first thing you have to realize about NECC is that it is huge. There are somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 attendees and about 4,000 exhibitor staff. There are 8-9 concurrent session slots a day with about 25 sessions in each slot. Plus there are poster sessions, workshops, and more. As the song goes “there is more to be done then can ever be done.” So when one goes to an event like this one has to set some goals and priorities.
One of the things I really wanted to do at NECC was to connect with some of the education bloggers who were there. Most of my favorite edubloggers were scheduled to be there. Unfortunately there are other goals I have for NECC that directly related to my first priority – computer science and information technology education – which also happens to be why my day job pays my way to NECC. So EduBloggerCon was out because it conflicted with the CS & IT Symposium. That’s life.
During NECC I made several visits to the Blogger Cafe though. I was able to meet and talk to (albeit briefly) many of the people I wanted to see. Some of them like Scott McLeod and Miguel Guhlin I met in person for the first time. Others like Steve Dembo (Discovery Education network) and Will Richardson (Web 2.0 education trainer and author) I’ve met before but it was great to see them in person again. Others like Jeff Utecht (who has made a career in international schools) I have seen before but not really had a chance to meet in person. It was really a treat to meet all the people I met at the Blogger Cafe. Kudos to ISTE for having it and to all the people who dropped by.
I also met several bloggers I did not know about before and even started following some new people I met on Twitter. The Web 2.0 educators where almost a conference within a conference and clearly I could have spent the whole time with people who, much like me, live online. And that would not have been bad. It just wasn’t my main reason for being at NECC. Still I did wish I was two people at times.
I was there for the CS and IT stuff. People often do not realize that at the beginning NECC was almost all about computer science and teaching computers. Now it is just a very small part of NECC. That’s not all bad because of course there are many more ways that computers and networks and other technologies can be used to make teaching better. But for those of us who see our selves at computer teachers (which has many and varied definitions) NECC can make us feel like outsiders at times.
This year there were more sessions for computer teachers I though. The SIGCT (Special Interest Group for Computing Teachers) did a great job of listing relevant sessions for computer teachers. I was able to attend a number of them. The morning forum on “Why is teaching creativity so hard?” was fascinating for example. I also attended the SIGCT business meeting. I’ve been a member of ISTE and SIGCT since my teaching days and many of the active members are old and dear friends. I wouldn’t miss seeing them. And of course at both of these events, and some of the regular sessions, I was able to meet new people. There did seem to be more younger CS teachers around this year which I found encouraging. Not surprising with NECC being in San Antonio there were also a lot of teachers I have met through TCEA (perhaps the largest and strongest state organizations of computer educators in the country.) I hope to make their conference (second largest ed tech conference after NECC) this winter.
There was a lot of discussion about attracting and retaining students in computer science this year – as would be expected. Some of the sessions focused on ways to do that including game development. But there is a lot of interest in web development as well. And on the exhibit floor robots were easy to find. People seem more interested in robots for pre-engineering than for computer science though. Well I like pre-engineering too!
A lot of the conversation was disturbing though. There is a bit of crisis in K-12 computer science. Not just enrollment but certification, administrative support and lots of ambiguity caused by the College Board dropping one of the AP CS exams. CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) is working hard on all of these issues but they need a large and active membership to help out. So if you are a computer science, information technology, or web design teachers go join up. It’s free. The states really need to get their act together on figuring out where computer science and information technology fit, how teachers should be certified (NCLB and highly qualified teachers rules and all), and how they are going to make it happen so our students can be successful in the future.
Well all in all I had a great time at NECC. I saw many old friends, met many new people, learned quite a bit and brought back lots of new ideas, and I was able to get some feedback on and increase the visibility of some things that Microsoft is working on for education. Now to get some sleep.